During the last fifty years since the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has made some important advances in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

National and international laws have been enacted and numerous international human rights instruments, particularly a treaty to ban racial discrimination, have been adopted.

Progress has been made – witness the defeat of apartheid in South Africa. Yet, the dream of a world free of racial hatred and bias remains only half fulfilled. As technology brings the peoples of the world closer together and political barriers tumble, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance continue to ravage our societies.

Horrors such as “ethnic cleansing” have emerged in recent years, while ideas of racial superiority have spread to new media like the internet. Even globalization carries risks that can lead to exclusion and increased inequality, very often along racial and ethnic lines.

As racial discrimination and ethnic violence grow in complexity, they become more of a challenge for the international community. As a result, new tools to deal with racism are called for.

“This World Conference has the potential to be among the most significant gatherings at the start of this century,” the Secretary-General of the Conference and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, stated.

“It can be more: it can shape and embody the spirit of the new century, based on the shared conviction that we are all members of one human family.”

Meeting the challenge at the millennium

In 1997, the General Assembly decided, in resolution 52/111, to hold the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

The World Conference which will be held in South Africa 31 August to 7 September 2001, will be a landmark in the struggle to eradicate all forms of racism "requiring a strong follow-up mechanism to examine whether Governments have delivered on their promises made," according to the High Commissioner.

She promised "to make it a conference of actions not just words." The World Conference is a unique opportunity to create a new world vision for the fight against racism in the twenty-first century.

The Preparatory Committee

The UN Commission on Human Rights is acting as the Preparatory Committee for the World Conference. The purpose of the preparatory process is to raise public awareness of racism and racial discrimination globally and to focus on the action needed to fight it.

Prior to the Conference, two preparatory meetings are planned. The first was held from 1 to 5 May 2000 in Geneva and the second will be in May/June 2001, also in Geneva.

At the first Preparatory Committee meeting, a number of organizational decisions were taken, including adoption of the provisional agenda for the Conference and its draft rules of procedure.

A voluntary fund has been established to provide additional resources for the preparatory process and the World Conference itself.